The Mix or the Room?

Let's be honest, we all know a lot of pastors (worship, senior and otherwise) are not happy with the sound in their worship rooms every weekend. Sometimes, the guy behind the board is to blame. Perhaps they've not been trained, or they just don't understand music or don't know how to put a good mix together. Other times, however, it's not their fault. Try as they might, the mix just never "comes together." And while it may be true that a great engineer can make even a bad PA sound decent, most churches have to make do with good engineers (most of whom don't do this for a living). So why do churches keep making it harder for them?

Over the last few months, I've been traveling to a bunch of different churches. Every time, someone asks me, "How did it sound?" I have a hard time answering. Not because I don't know, but because I am trying to discern if it was the mix or the PA or the room that's at fault (yeah, most times it doesn't sound that great...).

As an example, I recently visited a fairly new church. As soon as I walked in, I suspected there was going to be trouble. The PA hang was, uh, interesting. The room was a rather odd shape, and the walls had a lot of acoustic treatment. As soon as the band started up, I started hearing strange things. The bottom end was really boomy and loud, yet not at all defined. The room was actually too dead, at least for the way the PA was tuned. There was no sparkle, no air. The system had little clarity and while it was loud, there was no energy. As the worship set went on, it was clear the mix was not fantastic, but the room wasn't helping at all.

Here's the point of all this: If you're having consistent trouble getting good sound, rather than being frustrated or mad at the sound guys, why not bring someone in and re-tune the room. This is harder than it might appear, since there are a lot of people out there purporting to be audio "experts," who have no idea how to really tune a room. They might have a laptop with SMAART  on it, but no clue how to use it the right way. Or they may be old school and just do the whole thing by ear. In any case, you need to shop around. Find out what other rooms they've worked on and go listen to them. Get recommendations from other churches. As them what their approach to room tuning is (hint, if they answer, "Pop in a CD and tweak it until it sounds good," keep looking).

Your prospective tuner should be asking you questions. "What don't you like about the existing sound?" "How would you like it to sound?" "What is your musical style?" "How loud do you like it?" If you're not hearing these questions, you need to keep looking.

The bottom line is this: Your sound volunteers (and staff people) have way too much to do every weekend without fighting the room. Make their jobs easier and give them a decent sounding PA to work with. Even if the system is old and needs to be replaced, you can often extend it's life (while saving for the right one) with a good tuning.

A properly tuned PA won't magically correct a bad mix, but it sure goes a long way toward making a good one sound better.